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Vuelta a España 2011: Stage 20


The penultimate Vuelta stage – and today the final winner will be decided! Will Cobo hold on to his narrow lead over Froome?  And it all takes place in the Basque country!

187 km and four ranked climbs in the Basque Country today will decide the winner of this year's Vuelta a Espana. With only 13 seconds separating numbers one and two, excitement is guaranteed!

We have another huge escape group – 26 strong!  Caruso (LIQ), Roche (ALM), Mondory (ALM), Toribio (ACG), Van Avermaet (BMC), Isasi (EUS), Txurruka (EUS), Howard (THR), Horrach (KAT), Karpets (KAT), Vorganov (KAT), Marzano (LAM), Mori (LAM), Perez (LAM), Bennati (LEO), Lastras (MOV), Bakelants (OLO), Van De Walle (OLO), Kiserlovski (AST), Barredo (RAB), Kruijswijk (RAB), Marycz (SBS), Nuyens (SBS), De Kort (SKS), Le Mevel (GRM), and Carrara (VCD).

They currently have 3:20 on the field.

88km remaining from 187km

Here's what we have to look forward to today:

First intermediate sprint: Eibar, Km.41

Alto de Karabieta - 2nd category, 6.3 kilometers
Start: 41.5 / End: Km.47.8

Alto de Elosua - 1st  category,  7.3 kilometers
Start: Km.57 / End Km.64,3

Feed Zone: Km.100

Alto de Kanpazar - 3rd category, 5.4 kilometers os
Start: Km.106,6 / End Km.112

Second intermediate sprint: Elorrio, Km.119,2

Puerto de Urkiola - 1st category,  5,5 kilómetros
Start:  Km.133,1 / End: Km.138,6

The first intermediate sprint went to Roche ahead of Lastras and Txurruka.

We've passed the first two climbs already, too.  The first one went to Mori ahead of De Kort and Txurruka.  The second one was Mori again, followed by Righi, Lastras, Barredo and Txurruka.


And we have two changes in the make-up of the group:  Not Horrach but Paolini (both Katusha) and for Lampre, Righi instead of Perez.

Anybody remember all the way back to 1972?  Legendary Asturian rider José Manuel Fuente was in a class of his own in 1972. Although he only won a single stage, his margin of victory at the Pyrenean resort of Formigal was a staggering nine minutes, catapulting him into the lead. He was equally strong on the penultimate day’s stage to Vitoria. Seeing his Kas team-mate Miguel Lasa’s second place under threat from Frenchman Désiré Letort, Fuente went on the attack on the Orduña clumb, blowing the bunch apart, catching the break, then Letort. At the summit he sat up, enabling the bunch to regroup and Lasa to retain second place.

101km remaining from 187km

This stage is typical of the Tour of Basque Country, winding back and forth over iconic climbs before heading south into Vitoria. There is something for everyone on the route today, from steep ascents to open plains where rouleurs will be in their element. Today’s five climbs should count against the sprinters, most of whom will be out of the equation even before the Urkiola, which is the last categorised mountain of this year’s race. It’s almost 50km from the top to the finish, mostly on straight, flat roads where escapees will be vulnerable to counterattacks from behind.

Our top ten coming into the stage:

1     Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC     77:59:12      
2     Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling     0:00:13      
3     Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling     0:01:41      
4     Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team     0:02:03      
5     Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC     0:03:48      
6     Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek     0:04:13      
7     Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale     0:04:31      
8     Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto     0:04:45      
9     Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team     0:05:20      
10     Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi     0:05:33      

The race for the points jersey is still nip and tuck.  Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) has 110 points, and Bauke Mollema of Rabobank is only two points behind him.  Cobo is third.

David Moncoutie (Cofidis) doesn't have the mountain jersey wrapped up yet.  He came into the stage leading that ranking with 63 points, but AG2R's Matteo Montaguti is only seven points down in second place.

Cobo not only leads the GC but also the Combination classification, ahead of Froome and Mollema. Geox looks to have a lock on the team ranking.

87km remaining from 187km

And now a little climbing direct after lunch:  the category three Alto de Kanpazar.

One thing we can count on today is that Christopher Froome of Sky will attack!  He is so close to winning this race that he refuses to concede defeat.  “I feel like I've got nothing to lose and all to gain,” he said yesterday afternoon.

Yesterday’s hero Igor Anton admitted that it was hard for him to fall asleep after his stage win on home soil. “I was still impressed by what happened when I woke up this morning”, said the rider who was going to pass in his village of Galdakao only 3km after the start.

Inaki Isasi (Euskaltel) is from the Basque province of Alava where stage 20 arrives in Vitoria. “I’d like to win on home soil like Igor yesterday but I don’t feel good enough, so I’m not the card for Euskaltel to play today”, he said.

70km remaining from 187km

Gap holding steady at 1:28, with RadioShack leading the chase.

Race leader Juan Jose Cobo of Geox is sure ready for Froome's attacks.  But of course he plans to maintain his lead and take home the red jersey.

Juan José Cobo said: “I’m nervous, but yesterday, I was nervous too and all the days since I took the jersey, it’s been the same. My tactic will not change: I’ll stick on Froome’s wheel.”

56km remaining from 187km

What did it mean to Igor Anton to win yesterday? “To win here, in front of my fellow Basques and my friends is extraordinary," he said.

53km remaining from 187km

Barredo attacks out of the lead group, as they start up the final climb.

They aren't going to let hm go, though.

Barredo now leads a group of about 10.

52km remaining from 187km

This climb has some nasty sections in it.  Right now the leaders are at an 11% section.

Le Mevel leads the break group and tries to keep the pace as high as possible.

Seven in the lead grou now:  Roche, LeMevel, three Rabos....

A Rabo rider jumps to try and grab the mountain points.  Sorry, we still don't have the names yet. The gaps aren't that huge at the moment.

An 8% section now for Barredo.

Yesterday's winner Anton is at the back of the field.  The field is now 50 seconds behind Anton.  Not real sure if they have caught everyone from the break group or not.

We now have Barredo in the lead, followed by Le Mevel, Kiserlovski, Roche and Txurruka.

The Spaniard is building up his lead, now over a minute.

Lots of fans along this climb, cheering all the riders on.

46km remaining from 187km

Sastre and Menchov lead the field up the climb, helping their teammate Cobo.

Barredo finally hits the top of the climb.  He still has over 46km to go.

The gap to the four chasers is 35 seconds.

The peloton is now slogging its way through the narrow fans-filled section.

CAruso and Kruijswijk are also in the chase group.

Chris Froome (Sky) said: “Most of the Vuelta is over. I’ll try and stay out of trouble and see if there is an opportunity to win but I doubt it. I really enjoy the support and the passion there is in the Basque Country for cycling. It’s extremely positive for our sport. It would be good to see more bike races here.”

1:45 for Barredo, over the peloton.

To be exact, the chasers are 43 seconds back, and the peloton another 1:01 behind them.

A moto has gone down.  The driver is on the road, and this doesn't look good.

Barredo takes a drink of something blue.....

Bakelants is also in the chase group.

Leopard Trek is doing a lot of work in the peloton?  Why?  In the hopes that Bennati can win today.  He very much wants a win going into the Worlds.

Bradley Wiggins (Sky) as a cycling connoisseur said: “I’ve done the Tour of the Basque Country only once but I wasn’t surprised to see the crowd yesterday. It was hostile two days ago but not yesterday. People here just love the racing.”

Only 34 km to go.  When will Sky attack?

One of the special jerseys has finally been decided.  Moncoutie has once again won the mountain ranking.  Congratulations!

Leopard Trek's work is effective, the gap is now only 1:07.

Danish champion Nicki Sorensen of Saxo Bank has a jersey full of water bottles.

Barredo's gap is now 33 seconds to the chasers, with the field only 17 seconds behind them.

The chase group is caught and the field is only 34 seconds behind Barredo.

26km remaining from 187km

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) is on a mission to defend the green jersey. He has only two points advantage over Bauke Mollema (Rabobank). “I have a lot of fans in the Basque country and I hope the people who are waiting for me on the climb of Urkiola will give me the inspiration for taking enough points and win this jersey”, Purito said.

Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) said that he was ready for the fight. “It’s a bit strange to have climbers fighting for the green jersey at the end of a Grand Tour”, said the Dutchman. “I’ll give it a go. Even if it’s a mass sprint at the end, probably there’ll be a sprint between Rodriguez and me.”

This is Barredo's sixth Vuelta.  He is fighting hard to maintain his led and win this stage.

Laurent Bezault who is one of the three technical directors of the Vuelta, spoke last night with his former coach Michel Thèze who is in charge of the riders coming to the UCI world cycling centre from the unconventional countries. “He told me that of all the riders he’s had, Chris Froome is one of the biggest engines he tested. The two others were Rafa Chtioui from Tunisia and Daniel Teklehaimanot from Eritrea.

“Michel is not surprised at all by what Froome is doing at the Vuelta. This rider only needed time to find his way to express his qualities in the world of pro cycling.” Froome was at the world cycling centre when he was a Kenyan before he switched to British nationality.

We gather that the final intermediate sprint has been moved to the 16km marker.  It was supposed to have been between the final two climbs.

Froome is now in the middle of the Leopard Trek riders.  Is he trying to disguise himself amongst the similar jerseys?  Cobo must keep a good eye out.

Barredo is building up his lead second by second, now at 0:44.

Froome attacks with just over 20 km to go.  But Cobo is glued to his rear wheel.

And now the gap is coming down, to about 33 seconds.

16km remaining from 187km

Wiggins takes the points for the second place at the sprint, with Lagutin third, we think.

15km remaining from 187km

Barredo is now caught by..... who the heck is that?

Ah Carlos Sastre!  He took second at the sprint by the way, with Wiggins third.

Eusebio Unzue, manager of Movistar: “Our team is based 90km away from Vitoria, so we’d like to imitate Euskaltel but we have only four riders left after food poisoning: Lastras has a sore knee, Bruseghin might have not recovered from yesterday, Intxausti is tired, so our breakaway rider for today is Imanol Erviti.

“Race leader Juan José Cobo was in our team last year but he never fitted. He did his best but he didn’t manage to adapt to our group. I’m surprised to see him riding at this level now. He didn’t win the Vuelta at the Angliru but at Pena Cabarga. Normally, he would have cracked mentally when Froome attacked him. In 40 years, I’ve never seen such a rider able to go in such a quick period of time from very high to very low level. I’m waiting for Alejandro Valverde to come back from holiday for signing a contract with us for next year.”

The two Spaniards in the lead are working well together.   They have 33 seconds on the field.

Barredo has been named most aggresssive rider of the day.  The gap is increasing slightly, 40 seconds.

10km remaining from 187km

8km remaining from 187km

Sastre now alone in the lead.

7km to go and only 15 seconds for Sastre.

Eros Capecchi (Liquigas) has been a team-mate of Juan José Cobo at Saunier Duval. “When I saw Cobo in Benidorm, I told my team-mates that he’d make the top 5 overall because I had never seen him so fit”, said the Italian. “I don’t think he can lose the Vuelta now.”

Still Leopard Trek leading the way, with an Astana rider in there, too.  14 seconds.

5km remaining from 187km

Bonus seconds are 20, 12 and 8.  So Froome would have to win with Cobo finishing no higher than fourth, for the Sky rider to take over the lead.

Less than 4 km and the field is close behind Sastre now.

3km remaining from 187km

And that's it.  Sastre is caught!

Astana now in the lead with the finish rapidly approaching.

Another mass sprint today!  Will Bennati finally take his win?

Leopard back in the lead now.

Last km!

A big left hand curve.... Bennati now in fourth

Bennati goes!

Gasparotto behind him, but Bennati takes it!

Leopard Trek's hard work has finally paid off.

Bennati had a good bike's length lead over his nearest rival.  Third was a Liquigas rider....

Caruso was third, with Vanmarcke fourth and De Kort fifth.

That will be a major relief to Bennati, and help him enormously with his chances for the Worlds.

An all-italian podium in the Basque country today!

Here is the top ten from the stage:

And the top ten in the GC, going into tomorrow's final stage:

That's it for today.  Join us again tomorrow for the exciting finale of this year's Vuelta a Espana!

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